Code and musings by Darshak Parikh

Two-week Review of Arc Browser

Arc Browser had been making waves in my social media circles, so I was mildly intrigued by what they were making. But it is in closed preview at the time of writing, so I didn’t bother taking a deeper look. I was happy with Firefox.

That was until my friend Rahul mentioned he had been enjoying it and shared an invite to the preview. Now, after two weeks of using it as the primary browser on my macOS workstation, I want to share some thoughts.

What I like

Spaces and Profiles

Spaces are a way to group your tabs and bookmarks, which is Arc’s answer to multiple windows. Profiles, on the other hand, group your logins, much like Firefox Containers. The two features work well together.

I use these to separate my personal browsing, my work browsing and my client work browsing. I even colour-coded the Spaces to match the brand colours of the said companies, while choosing an autumn orange for my Personal Space.

A screenshot of my Personal Space in Arc, with an autumn orange gradient background, showing my pinned tabs and folders in a sidebar on the left

This way, I can tell at a vague glance the Space I’m in right now. Switching Spaces with the touchpad gesture has become second nature in a short time.

Easels

You can capture any rectangular area on any web page and save it to a so-called Easel. This is like a sharable board to collect stuff from various parts of the web. You can even add text, pictures and arrows to it. Think of it like a love child of Excalidraw and Pinterest.

And that rectangle you captured? By default, it is an ordinary screenshot with a link to the source page. But the magic starts when you press the Play button on it. This will make it update live, so you can keep an eye on a part of a page without opening the entire page. Nifty!

I’ve been using an Easel to track my Inktober progress. I added an image with the list of daily prompts and my to-do item which I could check right away. I also added links to the Mastodon and Twitter threads where I post the artworks.

A screenshot of my Inktober Easel in Arc, with a heading saying “Inktober”, an image containing a list of art prompts, a Habitica to-do item saying “Inktober” and screenshots of a Mastodon thread and a Twitter thread

This lifts the overhead of deciding what to do next: everything is (literally) laid out in front of me.

Command Bar

I use VS Code, so I’m used to summoning a genie text input and typing my wish.

Arc has this feature, and it’s pretty smart. Enter a URL, a web search query or a browser action, and it will know what to do.

Arc is also keyboard-friendly in general. Not only does it have good shortcuts, it also makes them easy to discover and change.

Little Arc

You’re in another app, say, Slack, and you click a link. You don’t have to switch over to the main browser window. You can choose to open a smaller window right there, do your thing and close it without switching contexts.

I use this to check out shared links and review small pull requests. If it needs more time and space, there’s a button to open it in the main browser window.

Boosts

This is a fancy name for what are traditionally known as user styles and user scripts, except that you don’t need to install an extension.

The idea is that you can add custom code to some or all websites and tweak them to your liking. People have used these to theme pages, add features and remove unwanted crap among other things.

The major difference is that Boosts in Arc are more approachable. You can choose from pre-built templates, which come with nice code comments to guide you through the process.

I’m yet to write my own Boost, but I’m more likely to write one for Arc than any other browser.

Also, by giving it a simple name and making it more developer-friendly, Arc could even create a marketplace to share and install public Boosts. I haven’t heard of any plans to do so yet — it’s a complicated undertaking — but they could if they wanted to.

Split view

This is what it says on the tin. You can split the window to see multiple tabs at once.

I have often wished for this in other browsers. While this can be solved by tiling two browser windows, I am not a fan of the window management in macOS, so a built-in split view is a boon.

What I don’t like

No reader mode

Websites like to smother their articles with cookie banners, pop-ups and other annoyances.

With a click of a button, I can get rid of it all and focus on the content, while being able to tweak the appearance to my liking. In Firefox, that is. I sorely miss this feature in Arc.

It’s only for macOS (for now)

My other devices are a phone (running Android), a laptop and a Raspberry Pi (both running Linux). Firefox syncs among all these devices. Arc does not (yet).

The next platform they’re planning to support is a logical choice, but one I couldn’t care less about: Windows.

It’s Chromium

It’s sad that yet another new browser has to contribute to the Chromium monopoly.

Even if I do swallow that pill, what’s harder for me is to get used to Chromium devtools. The UX just doesn’t compare to that of Firefox devtools. And while there are some brilliant designers working on Arc, they’re unlikely to change the devtools.

Furthermore, Arc uses the Chrome Web Store for extensions. This means I cannot install extensions which Google doesn’t like because they harm their ad business. The Firefox add-ons marketplace is much more relaxed in those terms.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m happy with the direction Arc is going in. I love the features and happily use it as my default browser. That said, there are few important things missing, so I will likely switch back to Firefox soon.

If you are reading this as a part of the Arc team, I will keep cheering for you (unless you do something terrible). All the best, and keep up the great work!